Thru Hikers Rank Their Top Challenges

At long last, straightforward numbers to write about!  Here is some simple and hopefully edifying information about what aspects of trail travel thru-hikers from 2013-14 felt were most challenging.  463 Appalachian Trail and 313 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers answered the question:  “Rank the top three most challenging aspects of your hike.”  Data was acquired through the 2013-14 long distance hiker survey.

Most Challenging ATMost Challenging PCTSome observations:

  • Physical problems and weather/climate were the top two most challenging aspects of the trail for both groups of hikers.  Physical problems was #1 most challenging for PCT hikers and #2 for AT hikers.
  • The #3 feature ranked most challenging by AT hikers was a virtual 4-way draw between finances, loneliness, diet, and insects.  For PCT hikers, finances was a good couple of percentage points above loneliness for the #3 ranked feature thought of as most challenging.
  • For both groups, gear was a very low-ranking “most challenging” choice.  Gear failed to cross the 10% mark for 2nd and 3rd most challenging choices.  So, for those of you planning a thru-hike and stressing about gear: RELAX.
  • Insects really bugged AT hikers.  About twice as many AT hikers ranked insects as second most challenging compared to PCT hikers.

Weather and Climate

Since so many hikers thought aspects of weather and climate were significant challenges, distancehiking took a closer look at what hikers found to be the most challenging weather and climate.  464 AT and 313 PCT thru-hikers answered the question:  “What was the most challenging weather/climate you experienced?”

Most Challenging WeatherSome observations:

The AT and PCT are thought of as being quite different in terms of climate and in a way, thru-hikers’ experiences reflect this.  PCT hikers who found hot and dry weather to be the most challenging far exceeded the percentage of AT hikers who felt the same way.  Similarly, far more AT hikers than PCT hikers felt that hot and humid weather was their biggest challenge.  Both trails get quite hot, but the AT also gets humid!

Despite these differences, the fact that both trails occupy significant stretches of North American mountain terrain was reflected in the fact that overwhelming numbers in both trail groups rated cold and wet as the most difficult weather/climate feature.

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